Premium Economy Airline Seats Guide

Air Canada 787-9 Premium Economy Class seats

Alex S.H. Lin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Airline passengers want to fly in greater comfort, especially on long flights. But they don’t want to triple their airfare by upgrading to business class. An enhanced form of economy seating bridges the gap.

This service class is usually called premium economy, but it can be dubbed economy comfort or something similar. Premium economy fares are costlier than economy but much less than business class.

Premium economy has caught on for several good reasons. Business travelers can fly in comfort for an airfare that their company can live with since premium economy tickets are often allowable expenses when business class are not. In addition, long-haul flights in coach seats can be deadly.

Many leisure travelers are willing to spend more for a decent in-flight experience and a better shot at getting some shut-eye. And premium economy seats are often available at the last minute at the boarding gate for a modest upcharge from economy.

How Is It Better Than Economy?

As the name suggests, premium economy is an enhanced form of regular economy (“coach”) seating. Premium economy seats are physically different from coach seats. They are not just good coach seats (as in bulkhead or exit row). They are slightly bigger than coach seats, with a bit more recline, and a few inches more legroom. Premium economy usually has its own cabin section, typically 26 to 34 seats.

What Are the Service Advantages?

Before flying: Premium economy passengers have some benefits. Passengers may have their own check-in line at the airport. They have a more generous baggage allowance, often two free bags rather than one. (The bags themselves can weigh a few pounds more.) Priority boarding allows premium economy passengers to get onto the jet first and settle in.

In the air: Premium economy passengers fly in greater comfort than coach passengers. Seats are less cramped than economy, with much more legroom and a wider cushion (typically around 3 inches more than economy seats). Seats are more ergonomic, with contoured headrests, leg rest, and lumbar support. And there's more overhead stowage room for premium economy carry-on bags than in economy.

Premium economy offers an enhanced in-flight experience. Passengers get upgraded pillows and blankets and, usually, amenity kits. Plus, they have more entertainment options and better meals and drink service than in economy.

Can You Sleep in a Premium Economy Seat?

Your chances for shut-eye are better in premium economy than the cramped economy seats. Of course, nothing compares with a flatbed seat in business or first class, but they are very costly. And premium economy's last-minute price should be very soothing.

What Isn't Available?

With premium economy, you do not have airport VIP lounge access. You certainly do not get a flat-bed seat or even a seat with the deep recline of business class. And you don't get a glass of Champagne when you're seated.

How Much More Does It Cost?

The bad news: Premium economy seats are almost twice the fare of regular economy. But the fare is still far less than business class.

The good news: Unsold premium economy seats may be available for a small amount (sometimes as low as $20) the day of your flight at the boarding gate. Ask about upgrades when checking in.

What It's Like With Cathay Pacific Airlines

I flew on a special Cathay Pacific flight from Seattle to Hong Kong that invited journalists to test out premium economy.

Premium economy benefits kicked in long before we took off. Like first and business class, premium economy had its own airport check-in counters. We were allowed two check two bags and an additional 10 pounds in weight for each, compared to ecomony. We had priority boarding and settled into our seats in a leisurely fashion.

Cathay’s premium economy benefits continued in-flight. As soon as we were seated, in our own premium economy section, we were served a welcome drink, just as in business class. We got premium economy amenity kits with a sleep mask, earplugs, socks, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Noise-canceling headsets were provided.

What Are Cathay’s Seats Like?

Premium Economy had its own spacious section appropriately set between the business class and economy cabins. Seats were wider than economy, with more legroom. The recline in premium economy is 8 inches from vertical. The angle reminded me of a dentist's chair: you are resting leaning back, but you are still in a chair, not in a recliner.

The seat had more storage space for my personal stuff, providing easy access to my tablet, magazines, and water bottle. Seats had a meal table and an additional drink table, so you could work during your meal. Each seat came with a power outlet with multiple ports. The personal TV screen was notably larger, with endless entertainment options. You could stream your own music or movies from your gadgets with a special cable; passengers should request one as soon as they board.

What Is Cathay’s Dining Like?

Premium economy passengers are served the same meal as business class cabin. It was excellent, with a good choice of premium wines at no extra charge.

What About Other Airlines?

There are several international carriers as well as North American carriers that offer premium economy seating.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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